It was a full house at FBi Social
for Crossroads: a panel discussion hosted by Time Out Sydney
and FBi Radio about the future of nightlife in Kings Cross
The panel was made up of some people who know a thing or two about the Cross: Lord Mayor Clover Moore, sociologist Dr James Arvanitakis, Small Bars Association president Martin O'Sullivan, FBi Radio’s president Cass Wilkinson, Matt Noffs from the Ted Noffs Foundation, Inthemix’s Jack Tregoning and Solotel CEO Andrew Gibbs. Time Out's publisher Angus Fontaine acted as master of ceremonies and provocateur, asking the hard questions about the Cross, alcohol-fuelled violence, Australia's drinking culture and more before an audience of local residents, music fans, bar lovers and other interested parties.
While things occasionally got heated, the biggest surprise was that the entire panel were unanimous on a few broad points: Moore, Wilkinson, Noffs and Arvanitakis all contended that statistics and anecdotal experience showed that despite the tragic death of Thomas Kelly last month, the Cross, by and large, is safer than it’s ever been. Gibbs made the point that Kelly was assaulted on the street at 10pm: relatively early in the night, and in an area beyond the control of any responsible venue manager. The bars, he insisted, were not the problem.
Gibbs also declared that the bars, pubs and clubs in the area are remarkably safe and very heavily regulated – though Moore pointed out that a recent investigation had found a number of breaches of regulations by venues in the area. But all conceded that "the idiot factor" was impossible to completely eliminate with 20,000 people crammed within a few blocks and out for a good time.
Speaking of which, what of the claim that the influx of small bars had a detrimental effect on the area? O’Sullivan pointed out the surprising fact that the Cross actually has no small bars in it – there’s been a two-year freeze on license applications for the area (which already has almost 200 licensed venues, it was also acknowledged), while Noffs spoke of the fact that while there are a lot of places to drink, there’s less diversity of entertainment on offer in the area now than ever before.
All of the panelists were of the opinion that the problems were not in the bars, but on the streets – and, as Noffs and Arvanitakis pointed out, part of the problem lay in Australia’s drinking culture. And all acknowledged that the culture of the area couldn’t be changed overnight: for over a century Kings Cross has been Sydney’s premiere entertainment precinct and the panel emphasised that they didn’t want the area to lose that crown – although several vocal residents had differing opinions, and weren't shy about expressing them. (Clover memorably burned one near-daily complainant to the City of Sydney with "there's a staff member allocated to you, Andrew".)
So what is the answer?
The entire panel also were unanimous that better late-night transport options would help alleviate the current situation in which thousands of people are stranded every Saturday and Sunday morning, where tiredness, drunkenness and frustration are more potent a cocktail than anything being served over the bar.
Better street policing and CCTV coverage were also flagged, though unfortunately the people who could speak to those issues – Assistant police Commissioner Mark Murdoch and Police Association boss Scott Weber – declined to participate in the panel.
So we have some ideas: but we want more than agreement – we want solutions. And that's the next step: watch this space...